Transitioning away from Oil Dependency – Part 1

7 06 2010

In light of my post yesterday I have decided to spend my efforts in looking at solutions to the oil disaster in the Gulf.  I feel that the biggest issue we can look at, in this situation, is oil dependency.

This is going to be a week long (maybe more) series on ways we can move away from oil dependency in our lives.

First of all, let’s look at our oil dependency.  The word dependency is really key in this term.  When we look at our usage of oil, we really are dependent on it, much like an alcoholic is dependent on alcohol.  When we are looking at ways of moving away from oil, we have to treat it as the addiction/dependency that it truly is.  This not only allows us to deal with the dependency effectively, but also gives us an opportunity to be more gentle with ourselves.  Like an addict might get really hard on themselves for going back to tobacco again and again, we might feel that way as we go back to our cars, high consumption rates and imported foods.  In breaking the addiction it is important to recognize it as such so that we can be easier on ourselves as we move through it.

For more information about the psychological background on our oil dependency check out:

An article proposing oil addiction as a psychological diagnosis with supporting theory

Transition Town Handbook – Chapter 6 Psychology of Change

The first step in overcoming our addiction is recognizing that we are addicting.  If you think you are not, spend a day not consuming any oil: that means no car, no imported foods, no non-organic foods, nothing made from plastics, nothing that has been made outside of your town…. OK.  So, we see that we, as individuals, and as a culture, are pretty dependent on oil.

And that’s where we are at.  So, we must accept that and move forward.  Which can be an overwhelming process.  Acknowledge that it is a huge movement away from oil dependency.

In the Transition Town Handbook, a book written by Rob Hopkins outlining a series of community oriented strategies for transitioning away from oil dependency, it is recommended that we look at a model of stages of change in order to see how we, as humans, psychologically move through the process of change, in this case, breaking the oil addiction.  It is helpful to use this model so that we can understand where we personally are at, and how we proceed through the process.

Here is the model of the stages of change:

As you can see, we enter in the pre-contemplative state.  This is where we either don’t realize there is a problem but others around us do, or  realize there is a problem occuring but haven’t yet decided if we are going to do anything about it.

The second stage, once we’ve encountered, either through our own information, or through external pressure, the urge to change, is to weigh the pros and cons of changing our behaviour.  Ideally, this is where we discover lots more pros than cons.

I feel these first two stages are where the vast majority of North American citizens are at.  If you are at this stage, that’s fine.  I encourage you to research climate change (a direct result of excessive fossil fuel use), peak oil, the oil disaster in the Gulf.  Maybe watch “The story of Stuff“, “End of Suburbia” or any number of new and pertinent eco-documentaries that cover the topic.

I feel like I’ve spent a good many years of my life working in the area of information dissemination, as I was learning the information too, and am more suited to be working at stage 4.

But we’re not there yet.  Stage three is the model of change is Determination.  This is when you look at the pros and cons and determine what you are going to do: choose Life or choose Oil, in this case.  In the figure above, there is a little arrow exiting the cycle, but I would encourage anyone in stage three to just ignore that little arrow and continue on to stage four: Active Change.

Active change puts into practice the decision to change and move away from an oil dependent life.  I find this stage to be the most challenging as there are just SO many areas that need to change in order for us to not be oil dependent.  We must change our modes of transportation, not just of our bodies but of our goods as well.  We must change what we eat, the way we eat and how that food is grown/raised/processed.  We must change our consumption patterns to something drastically less than what we currently have.

I like to note here that active change is not worded “giving up *x* thing that you are addicted to”.  I like to focus more on what I am getting out of the process than what I am losing.

Yes, I am losing the ability to have quick meals out of a box, but I am gaining the ability to have healthier, more nutritional food.  Yes, I might be losing my car (if I had one, which I don’t) but I am gaining the $8000 on average that Canadians spend on their vehicles every year.

It helps keep things in perspective and stay on course for stage five, which is maintenance.  Maintenance is keeping up with your changes, finding more ways to be more aligned in your decision and sticking to it, through challenge.  As you see, in the diagram above, there is a little arrow out here, as well.  I think that would be great, and is a more realistic expectation for us in about ten years, when more options are available, structures in place and support forthcoming.  Right now, stage six, Relapse, is pretty understandable.

Yup, though I am an active part of the Transition Movement, and spend most of my “free” time devoted to creating the transition, I still get the hankering for cheap pizza.  I still would rather get a ride than walk in the cold.  I still turn up my heat on cold days sometimes.  (ducks from the thrown pillows from fanatic environmentalists).  So, relapse happens. And it’s OK.

Because, we start again.  Each time it becomes easier.  We find more ways to support ourselves.  We find alternative solutions.  We become more empowered to choose Life and less drawn towards the empty promises of Oil Based Society.

Through understanding the psychological implications of oil addictions, and the ways that our psyche moves through in order to change, we can be more compassionate with ourselves and more effective at creating change in our lives.
The rest of the posts this week will surround Stage 4: active changes.  Just what can we do to move away from oil dependency?  How can we find the support and empowerment to do so?